In my previous post, Mail-Order Catalogs: Timeline and Truth, I shared the timeline of United States (and North America)’s Mail-Order Catalog businesses…and the truth behind the familiar term “mail-order”. By 1925, farmers and ranchers in isolated areas would conduct plenty of business by mail and order everything from seed to toilet paper to new dungarees from the Sears, Montgomery Ward, or Bloomingdale’s Catalogs.
Like the brand-to-generic terms we’re familiar with today (e.g., band-aid, kleenex), the familiar term (usually trademarked and properly capitalized) is substituted for the accurate. Adhesive bandage. Tissue. Bride, who happened to have been met and courted through the mail…and found through the newspaper, not a catalog.
Historians generally agree the term “Mail-Order Bride” came about in the language well into the 20th Century…not in time for an accurate portrayal in the 19th Century Mail-Order Bride novels so popular among readers of Western Historical Romance.
Despite the historical inaccuracy, the understood term, throughout the 20th century to the present is “mail-order bride”. So we’ll go with it. Just like everyone understands when I ask for a Kleenex, please (and all they have on hand is the store brand of facial tissue), we all know what “mail-order bride” (with or without the dash) means. So, “mail-order bride” it is.
Advertisements were published in newspapers far more often than a “catalog” of sorts. In fact more than one Matrimonial-type newspaper started up in the late 19th Century. The Matrimonial News did quite well in London, Germany, and the United States. Some matches were (purportedly) made between impoverished titled British nobility and American heiresses, but many advertising gentlemen admitted to being without land or title, laborers or merchants or home-loving sailors.
Such advertisements almost always included how much money the gentleman sought (or was worth) and how much money the bride-to-be had to her name. Most unromantic, that. I don’t know that I’ve ever read a mail-order bride romance that included the focus on finances. Why? My first guess: it’s not romantic. And fiction should be, ultimately, romantic–after all, we’re talking about Mail Order Bride-trope ROMANCE.
When the matrimonial agency’s introduction brought about a marriage, a strict contract was in force requiring the groom (usually but not always) to pay a percentage of the fortune his bride brought to the marriage. 1% of $10,000 (in the year 1885) seems a pittance to provide to the broker who worked the miracle. Money found its way into the pockets of owners of marriage rags much earlier than at the nuptial celebration. It cost good money to place an ad; in one case reported in a newspaper of the time, the total requested equaled a man’s complete salary for a full five months. He succeeded in bargaining down the required deposit to about 2 and 1/4 months’ salary.
Given the expense to use a sometimes-trustworthy brokerage, is it any surprise men contacted friends and family “back home” or a preacher they once knew in order to gain an introduction? Personal advertisements were sometimes posted in church newsletters. When trusted friends and family weren’t available, men and women alike placed their own advertisements in the Matrimony section of the classified ads in other cities’ newspapers.
Standard Corresponding Club, based in Chicago, advertised in newspapers nation-wide. A search on Newspapers.com suggests the Standard Corresponding Club advertised from 1900 through 1929. No fee is mentioned, but one must assume the Standard Corresponding Club would somehow gain financially from providing suitable introductions.
Nineteenth Century American newspapers are rife with articles that both support and praise various marital agencies and point out the perils, disasters, financial losses, broken hearts, and scams. Still, marriage brokers thrived and men and women continued to seek the elusive dream of finding a spouse, love, family, and a lasting connection. Many historically accurate stories portray honest happy-ever-afters while other journal entries speak of miserable outcomes to various mail-order bride pen-pal arrangements.
Let’s speak of the good, first. Happy newlyweds gave glowing reviews and testimonials. Articles in 19th Century newspapers all over the United States spoke of the many successes in bringing lonely hearts together resulting in “conjugal felicity“. (In modern speech: marital happiness/bliss.)
What do you think of using newspapers to connect with a potential partner?
I’d love to hear your thoughts! Please leave a reply, and forward this article to anyone else you think might find it enjoyable or informative. Thank you!
My next Article, Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, covers the various historically recorded events showing the dark side of the phenomenon of mail-order brides in the United States. Read this shocking show-and-tell to post here.
The above Nineteenth Century Mail-Order Bride SCAMS, Part 1 of the series has now completed the 12-parts. You’ll find access to the 12 through the link for Part 1, immediately above. Each page of the series offers all 12 parts through clearly identified links.
Victorians Flirting…In The Personals? Matrimonial Offer–Latest New York Style (1851) (on Sweet Americana Sweethearts) First Historical Use of Term “Mail-Order Bride” Matrimonial Fool and his Money (on Sweet Americana Sweethearts) Mail-Order Catalogs: Timeline & Truth Mail Order Brides in the 19th Century American West BOOK REVIEW: Hearts West: True Stories of Mail-Order Brides on the Frontier, by Chris Enss BOOK REVIEW: Object: Matrimony by Chris Enss Fred Harvey, Marriage Broker Charlotte Smith Demands National Legislation to Require Matrimony Mail-Order Catalogs in the Old West Definition of Love Making was Rated G in 19th Century
Learn more about the historical facts (physicians on the frontier, particularly Evanston, Wyoming Territory in 1888), and the research behind WANTED: MIDWIFE BRIDE.
Copyright © 2016 Kristin Holt LC